The tombs of officials. Houses of Eternity (Continuación)

A somewhat different picture of tomb building, although quite enlightening in this matter, is offered in cemetery G 7000, to the east of Khufu’s pyramid, where the royal children were buried (fig. 13).45 In this part of the necropolis twelve mastaba cores that are larger than those in the Western Cemetery were originally erected and arranged in three rows, each of which contains four tombs.46 Nothing is known about the initial intentions regarding the finishing of these structures or the forms of their offering places. It is obvious, however, that the cores were planned as one-shaft mastabas and had not been assigned to specific owners.47 During the later part of Khufu’s reign these twelve cores were converted into long twin mastabas (fig. 13).48 The cores of the mastabas in the two northern rows were joined in four pairs, while each of the southern cores received an extension. In each core a recess was broken and a chapel with a false door and relief decoration was built.49 Most of the structures were cased and received additional buildings of mud bricks.50 These changes created more burial places, for the original twelve tombs for twelve individuals were converted into eight tombs, which, however, served as resting places for eight couples, that is, sixteen people.51 In the second half of the Fourth Dynasty, probably by the later part of Khafre’s reign, a new type of tomb appeared at Giza. This was the rock-cut tomb,52 which became especially popular during the second half of the Old Kingdom.53 As the name implies, these funerary monuments are set apart by one main feature: their cult chambers are hewed vertically into the walls of abandoned quarries. From one of the upper cult chambers the burial shaft is driven down into the burial chamber below, and although both parts are completely cut into the rock, they are distinguished as superstructure and substructure. The upper section, then, is not a real superstructure like a mastaba, and, indeed, in numerous examples in the necropolis at Giza the tomb owner had a dummy mastaba (lacking the shaft leading into the burial chamber) erected atop the cliff, directly above the rock chapel.54

The oldest rock-cut tombs belonged to Khafre’s queens and their offspring; their rock-cut chapels are considerably larger than earlier stone chapels of mastabas, for they contain at least two rooms, and these are bigger than the chambers in the mastabas that preceded them. They show a concomitant increase in wall space available for decoration55 and were adorned in their interiors with a new type of statuary: nearly lifesize figures of the tomb owner, sometimes accompanied by smaller representations of relatives, cut into the nummulitic limestone walls of the rock chapels.56 These figures did not replace the other statues commonly found in mastabas, either freestanding, in serdabs, or in niches closed with wood doors (see «Old Kingdom Statues in Their Architectural Setting» by Dieter Arnold in this catalogue). Rather they appeared exclusively in rock-cut monuments, representing an addition to the repertory of sculptural depictions of the tomb owner,57 and remained in use until the end of the Old Kingdom.58

In the middle of the Fifth Dynasty, during the reigns of Neferirkare and Niuserre, major changes took place in the building of private tombs. Wealthy Egyptians did not content themselves with the simple mastabas considered adequate in the previous dynasty but started to erect funerary monuments of impressive size that featured multiroomed superstructures.59 Among the most outstanding tombs of this kind, and one that certainly marks a turning point in tomb building, is the funerary complex of Ptah-shepses at Abusir (fig. 16). His tomb is the largest private funerary monument built in the Old Kingdom and also a nonroyal structure that displays architectonic features derived from royal pyramid complexes. As Overseer of All Construction Projects and married to a daughter of King Niuserre, Ptah-shepses had a remarkable career, to which the growth of his tomb attests. His monument was originally the usual mastaba consisting of the few rooms necessary for the mortuary cult and a burial chamber (fig. 16).60 However, in the course of the second and third building stages the initial mastaba was enhanced with a structure to the east containing a chapel with three niches for statues and additional rooms. Access to this complex was provided by a portico with two six-stemmed lotus columns made of high-quality limestone. This entrance soon fell into disuse, when the second enlargement was executed and a new and larger one was constructed farther to the east. The new portico was equipped with a pair of eight-stemmed lotus columns, also of fine limestone, reaching a height of 6 meters. A courtyard with twenty pillars and a complex of rooms were built to the south, and added to the southwest were a set of magazine rooms as well as a unique large boat-shaped room that probably housed two large wood boats.61 In its final form the vast monument attained a size of 80 by 107 meters (whereas the grand tomb complex of Mereruka from the Sixth Dynasty [fig. 17] measures a mere 48 by 81 meters). The rooms were adorned with numerous colored reliefs depicting a variety of scenes, only a small portion of which remain in place,62 and numerous statues of different sizes and materials were set up throughout the structure.63

Ptah-shepses’ complex without doubt inspired other tomb owners to build similar elaborate monuments, none of which, however, succeeded in surpassing his impressive example. Thus the architectural features of Ptah-shepses’ tomb are significant and merit discussion both because many reflect royal prototypes and because a number were adopted by various private tomb owners for generations to come. Even the initial mastaba shows details that imitate or at least paraphrase features of royal buildings. The room to the south with a staircase leading to the roof of the monument, for example, follows models from the valley and pyramid temples and, moreover, inspired copies in numerous private tombs of later times, such as those of Nebet, Idut, Mereruka, Ka-gemni (fig. 17), Ankh-ma-hor, and Nefer-seshem-re.64 The function of this staircase is by no means clear. One argument holds that the coffin with the mummy was dragged up the staircase to the roof, from which it was lowered into the burial chamber.65 Since the entrance corridor or shaft into the substructure in some tombs with staircases —including those of Ptah-shepses himself and Mereruka— is situated in a special room within the superstructure, this explanation is not completely convincing and the issue remains open.

Also in Ptah-shepses’ original mastaba are two large offering rooms, one to the south belonging to Ptah-shepses himself and one to the north belonging to his wife; both are oriented east-west, and each was once equipped with an altar placed in front of a huge false door in the west wall and a stone bench set up along the north wall. This kind of chamber is first observed in the pyramid temple of Sahure, the second king of the Fifth Dynasty, and prevailed in royal architecture until the Twelfth Dynasty, where it is relatively well preserved in the pyramid temple of Senwosret I at Lisht.66 The earliest nonroyal example discovered may be the offering room in the mastaba of Persen at Saqqara (D 45), dating to the time of Sahure.67 The type continues to appear in most of the large multiroomed mastabas of the latter part of the Fifth Dynasty and of the Sixth Dynasty and displays a standard form of decoration.68 While the west wall is almost entirely occupied by the false door, the east wall shows scenes of butchering of meat in the lower registers and offering bearers and piles of food offerings in its upper portions. The north and south walls depict offering bearers marching toward the tomb owner, who is shown seated in front of a table and receiving their goods.69

The most impressive architectural feature in Ptah-shepses’ tomb is without doubt the roof of the sarcophagus chamber, which, however, was certainly not visible once the mastaba was finished and is of a type that was not adopted in any of the later private tombs. A saddle roof consisting of four pairs of huge monolithic limestone blocks like those used in the royal pyramids of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, this element presents clear evidence that Ptah-shepses was familiar with the building techniques used in the pyramids of his era.70

With their pairs of limestone lotus columns, the entrance porticoes of the second and third building stages of Ptah-shepses’ complex are even more exceptional than the roof of his sarcophagus chamber. Indeed the columns are a unique invention, unparalleled in both earlier and later monuments. Although kings employed columns made of granite in their pyramid temples during the Fifth Dynasty, they were either papyriform (those of Niuserre) or, more often, palmiform (those of Sahure, Djedkare-Isesi, and Unis), whereas any lotus examples that appeared in their buildings were wood.71 Only sporadically were stone columns used in porticoes of later mastabas,72 and these never display a specific type of plant73 but rather show the simple and undecorated stem column that was introduced in the side entrances to Sahure’s pyramid complex.74

A chapel with three niches, which is placed on a level higher than other chambers in the superstructure and reached by small staircases, was one of the most important places of worship in Ptah-shepses’ tomb.75 Lifesize statues representing Ptah-shepses must have been put in these niches, hidden behind the narrow two-leaved wood doors that fronted them.76 Ptah-shepses found royal precedents for this type of chapel. In royal precincts five niches became the norm for kings, at the very beginning of the Fifth Dynasty, in the pyramid temple of Userkaf, marking the west end of the outer temple (see «Pyramids and Their Temples» by Audran Labrousse in this catalogue).77 Such chapels with three niches seem to have been the standard in the pyramid temples of queens in the Sixth Dynasty78 but only very rarely were incorporated in mastabas.79

Ptah-shepses’ pillared courtyard, which measures 18.4 by 17.6 meters, must be regarded as a copy of earlier royal examples, which date from the Fourth Dynasty through the time of Userkaf. At Abusir the kings adorned their pyramid courts with columns. Pillared courts are also a typical feature of pyramid temples belonging to queens of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.80 They remain important—although in much smaller form—in large private tombs, such as those of Ti, Ptah-hotep I, Akhti-hotep, Ka-gemni, Mereruka, and Khentika-Ikhekhi (fig. 17), until the middle of the Sixth Dynasty; they reappear, moreover, at the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty in the small tombs of Ihy and Hetep at Saqqara.81

We know that the walls of Ptah-shepses’ court were once decorated with reliefs but not whether statues of him were set up there as well. The existence of a huge altar82 in this impressive place indicates its function as the area in which offerings were presented and ritually cleaned before they were used in the mortuary cult.83

The many magazine rooms and their arrangement, set symmetrically along one side of a narrow corridor, are also clearly inspired by the model of royal pyramid temples, for such complexes did not exist in earlier private tombs, where only one or two chambers, if any, served as storerooms. Multiroomed magazine complexes are found in numerous mastabas of the second half of the Fifth Dynasty and of the entire Sixth Dynasty, some of which — for example, the tombs of Mereruka and Khentika-Ikhekhi and the queens Nebet and Khenut— contained rooms with two floor levels.84

Multiroomed mastabas following the model of Ptah-shepses’ monument —albeit in much smaller versions— became the prevalent form of funerary architecture for the upper class, while simpler tombs continued to serve individuals with fewer economic resources. None of the large mastabas are precisely alike, but all display more or less similar elements: entrance porticoes, pillared halls, complexes of magazines, serdabs, niches for statues, the east-west-oriented offering room with a huge false door. All share an increase in the number of rooms and, consequently, an increase in the wall space available for decoration, one of the main features that distinguish them from the tombs of previous periods. The massive mastaba above the substructure of earlier days was transformed into a superstructure that is a multiroomed cult complex in which hardly any solid masonry remains, as exemplified, for instance, in the tombs of Mereruka and Ka-gemni.

These architectural changes are reflections of a gradual development of funerary practices and the concept of the afterworld. The tomb in its new form was no longer regarded as a house of the dead but had instead become a monument or temple for the veneration of the deceased. The inclusion in the superstructure of an increasing number of reliefs and inscriptions —the latter stressing the tomb owner’s deeds and personal achievements85 —and the growing use of statues set up to confront the visitor (fig. 16) indicate that the offering room with the false door was now a secondary feature. How strong was the shift of meaning and priorities within the tomb complex is also revealed by a significant invention: the decorated burial chamber, which appeared at the very end of the Fifth Dynasty or, more likely, at the beginning of the Sixth.86 Indeed, the subjects treated in these decorations are lists and depictions of offerings, demonstrating that the deceased’s welfare in the afterlife had become a concern centered in the burial chamber rather than in the superstructure. Thus, two threads are discernible in the development of the multiroomed tombs of the later Old Kingdom: the first, and probably the more important, being the transformation of the superstructure into the locus of worship of the deceased as a venerable person, and the second the confinement to the offering room and the sarcophagus chamber of the mortuary cult and provisioning for the dead in the afterlife.


  1. Ibid., pp. 72ff., 80f.
  2. Ibid., pp. 59, 72.
  3. Ibid., pp. 52, 72. No complete slab stelae or fragments thereof were found in this part of the necropolis.
  4. Ibid., pp. 72f., 80f., 296.
  5. These were of the so-called L-shaped chapel type, which became standard at Giza during the Fourth Dynasty (ibid., pp. 183, 187-211), whereas the so-called cruciform chapels were prevalent at Saqqara into the Fifth Dynasty (ibid., pp. 302ff.).
  6. The casing was not executed or was left unfinished on the three eastern mastabas in the southern row (ibid., pp. 72f).
  7. The two shafts of the mastabas in the southern row are both in the original cores rather than in the extensions. Thus the original cores are of the two-shaft type but in their finished form are twin mastabas, for example, G 7130/40 (ibid., pp. 54, 298). The twin mastaba was not an invention of the Fourth Dynasty but was introduced in the Third Dynasty with the clear intention of joining the burial places of a man and a woman under one superstructure. Third Dynasty tombs of this type are found mainly at Saqqara and also in Nag el-Deir and Beit Khallaf (Reisner 1936, pp. 285ff.). The tombs of Kha-bau-sokar and Hathor-nefer-hotep (FS 3073) at Saqqara and of Nefer-maat and Itet (M 16) at Meidum, in which the relationship between husband and wife is corroborated by inscriptions, are the most famous (the other known examples are anonymous).
  8. Reisner (1942, p. 219) and Smith (1949, p. 166) dated the first appearance of the earliest rock-cut tombs to the reign of Menkaure; however, their findings must be corrected in view of the fact that certain of Khafre’s queens and sons owned some of these monuments.
  9. Reisner 1942, pp. 219-47, 300f. The most important sites with large rock-cut tombs are located in the provinces and date to the later part of the Old Kingdom: see Brunner 1936; Steckeweh 1936; Vandier 1954, pp. 293ff.; Kanawati 1980-92; El-Khouli and Kanawati 1989; El-Khouli and Kanawati 1990; Kanawati 1993; and Kanawati and McFarlane 1993.
  10. See Reisner 1942, p. 219, for the tombs of Khuen-re in the Menkaure quarry (MQ I), Mer-si-ankh III in cemetery 7000 (G 7530/40), and Rekhetre in the Central Field (no number).
  11. Ibid., pp. 247, 300f., 346-70; Harpur 1987, pp. 104-6.
  12. See the tomb of Queen Mer-si-ankh III, from the time of Shep-seskaf (Dunham and Simpson 1974, pls. 6, 8, 9a,b, 11b-d) and the late Fifth Dynasty tomb of Ka-kher-ptah (Kendall 1981).
  13. Brunner 1936, pp. 16f.; Hassan 1944, pp. 45-50; Shoukry 1951, pp. 238-55; Rzepka 1995, pp. 227-36.
  14. Shoukry 1951, pp. 248-55.
  15. Harpur 1987, pp. 106f.
  16. For similar types of mastabas at Abusir, see Borchardt 1907, pp. 25-32, 109-34.
  17. Verner 1992a, pp. 58ff.; Verner 1992b, pp. 599b A similar although smaller installation for boats is encountered in the tomb of Ka-gemni at Saqqara (fig. 17; Firth and Gunn 1926, p. 21, pl. 51).
  18. Verner 1986a. The number of fragments no longer in situ is estimated at about ten thousand (Rochholz 1994b, p. 261, n. 10). Concerning some of the scenes depicted, see Vachala 1992, pp. 109-11; Vachala 1995, pp. 105-8; and Vachala and Faltings 1995, pp. 281-86.
  19. It is estimated that about forty sculptures made of limestone, calcite (Egyptian alabaster), quartzite, granite, gneiss, and basalt were once present; see Rochholz 1994b, pp. 259-73; Verner 1994a, p. 187; and Patocková 1998, pp. 227-33. The number may seem high but it is not entirely unprecedented, for as early as the Fourth Dynasty some tombs were equipped with large quantities of sculpture: see, for instance, the tomb of Kawab in cemetery 7000 (G 7110/20, time of Khufu), which probably housed ten to twenty statues (Simpson 1978, p. 7) and the tomb complex of Ba-baef in the Western Cemetery (G 5230, end of Fourth Dynasty), where between thirty and fifty sculptures are estimated to have been installed (see cat. no. 87; Smith 1949, pp. 46, 50). In the large late Fourth or Fifth Dynasty mortuary complex of Ra-wer at Giza twenty-five serdabs and twenty statue niches were built (Hassan 1932, pp. I, 4-38; Porter and Moss 1974, pp. 267ff.).
  20. See, for instance, Munro 1993, pp. 43f., 82f., foldout 2; Macramallah 1935, pls. 2, 3.
  21. Badawy 1978, p. 12.
  22. D. Arnold 1988, pp. 48f., pls. 75, 105, foldouts I, 2; Jánosi 1994, pp. 143-63.
  23. H. Petrie and Murray 1952, p. 9, pl. 19 (4); Strudwick 1985, p. 30; Harpur 1987, p. 107, fig. 99.
  24. Harpur 1987, pp. 107f.
  25. See, for example, James 1953, pls. 18-22.
  26. Fiala in Preliminary Report 1976, p. 53, figs. 16, 17; Verner 1994a, p. 177, ill. For the royal examples, see D. Arnold 1991, pp. 191ff.; and Labrousse 1996, pp. 94ff., figs. 56, 57, 71, 78, pls. 8, 9.
  27. Lotus columns made of wood were set up in the court of Neferirkare’s mortuary precinct to finish the complex quickly after the king died, and it can perhaps be surmised that stone lotus columns were originally intended (Borchardt 1909, p. 21, figs. 16-18). Six-stemmed lotus columns of wood were also employed in the pyramid temple of Neferefre (Verner et al. 1990, p. 36).
  28. Only stone pillars were used in the courts of mastabas.
  29. See the tombs of Senedjem-ib Inti (Reisner 1942, fig. 162) and Seshem-nefer IV (Junker 1953, p. 101, figs. 49, 50, pl. 11).
  30. The royal type shows the titles and names of Sahure (Borchardt 1910, pp. 9f., 24f., 35, figs. 5, 20, 28, 79, 81, pls. 3, 8).
  31. Verner in Preliminary Report 1976, pp. 64ff., fig. 28; Verner 1986a, pls. 29, 76.
  32. Verner 1994a, pp. 181f. According to the Abusir papyri, statues representing the seated king were set up in the five chapels in pyramid temples (Rochholz 1994b, p. 262).
  33. Borchardt 1910, pp. 12, 20f.; Ricke 1950, pp. 35f., 70; Leclant 1979b, p. 359; D. Arnold 1997, pp. 63-72, figs. 21-24.
  34. Jánosi 1996, pp. 145-49. An exceptional shrine with four chapels was built in the mastaba tomb of Queen Nebet (wife of Unis); see Munro 1993, pp. 31, 34, pls. 4, 6, foldout 2.
  35. They appear, for example, in the mastaba of Ankh-ma-re (D 40) at Saqqara (end of Fifth Dynasty; Mariette and Maspero 1885, pp. 280ff.), the tomb of Ra-shepses (LS 16/S 902) at Saqqara (time of Djedkare-Isesi; Naville 1897-1913, vol. I [1897], p. 166), and the rock-cut tomb of Tjauti (No. 2) at Qasr el-Said (late Sixth Dynasty; Brunner 1936, p. 46, fig. 24).
  36. Jánosi 1996, pp. 150-53.
  37. Firth and Gunn 1926, pp. 61-65, fig. 72.
  38. Verner 1994a, p. 187.
  39. The royal courtyards also feature an altar of the king that served similar purposes; see D. Arnold 1977, pp. 7f.; D. Arnold 1988, p. 44; and Málek 1988, pp. 23-34.
  40. Munro 1993, p. 31, pl. 4, foldout 2; James 1953, pp. 27, 29, pl. 3.
  41. Assmann 1991, pp. 169-99.
  42. Concerning the dates of the tombs with decorated burial chambers, see Junker 1940, pp. 2, 4; and Lapp 1993, pp. 10ff., § 25 (Saqqara), pp. 29ff., § 89-91 (Giza), p. 36, § 104. A list of decorated burial chambers is offered by Bolshakov (1997, pp. 116f.).
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